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THE CLASSIC ROMANTIC HERO: COULD YOU REALLY LIVE WITH HIM?

Venus Ascending is an imprint publishing romantic Science Fiction and Fantasy in all sub-genres. However, general discussion about romantic SFF is more than welcome! Tell us about your favorite books, favorite authors, what you look for in romance, etc. Come in and join the conversation! Also look here for announcements, cover reveals, and reviews of new or upcoming releases from Venus Ascending.
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THE CLASSIC ROMANTIC HERO: COULD YOU REALLY LIVE WITH HIM?

Post by Teresa Edgerton » Mon Dec 19, 2016 3:17 am

Would you even want to? Why?

In my experience -- mostly reading historical romance -- romance novel heroes come in great variety, but there are a few general types that appear again and again.

There is Emma’s Mr. Knightley: steady, sensible, generous, and kind. That doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? But his feelings for Emma run deeper than it first appears, and most of all he understands her, sees the good in her despite her frequent mistakes. What could be more appealing than to know you are understood? He is the kind of man your probably ought to marry, though the constant advice might grow tedious.

In contrast there is Heathcliff: violent, passionate, and single-minded. His love for Cathy is closer to obsession. The wrongs he suffered as a youth have made him unbalanced. But Cathy herself is rather unbalanced, which creates a certain pleasing symmetry.

Sweeter by far is the childhood friend. Love may come slowly. There is nothing glamorous about him, but he has a store of courage and devotion which come out during a crisis, and he is far more dashing than he appears.

Perhaps most familiar of all is the rake. He drinks, gambles, makes reckless wagers. He keeps a beautiful mistress — usually an actress or an opera dancer — and dallies on the side with sexually adventurous widows and sexually unsatisfied wives. All this until he meets the heroine and falls in love, after which he becomes to all appearances a model of fidelity.

Next we have the brooding man of many secrets. His past is a mystery, there are skeletons in his closet (or perhaps a mad wife in his attic), but he sees something in the heroine that nobody else sees. Plain and poor though she may be, he knows her true worth and recognizes her as his soul mate.

Less often found is the absent-minded scholar or scientist — but then he cultivates solitude, preferring to be left to himself, his books and his experiments. He is rather good at problem solving but explaining the nature of the problem can be something of a trial, for he sees the world in patterns the rest of us can't see. Chronically abstracted, it takes a special woman to catch his attention, but once she does he makes a loyal husband.

Of another sort is the haughty aristocrat, the Mr. Darcy: arrogant, judgmental, apparently humorless. (And yet Darcy falls for the witty Elizabeth, who is almost perpetually amused by the foibles of those around her. Also, she has a family that would even embarrass a far less fastidious man.) Darcy is responsible for what might be one of the worst marriage proposals in all of literature, and yet there are self-proclaimed “variations” on his love affair with Elizabeth being written every day. Kinder than he appears, like the childhood friend — who he otherwise resembles not at all — he is a good man in a crisis.

Then there are the spies and soldiers who come home from the wars scarred in mind or body: cynical, disillusioned, prone to nightmares or tempers. Some become recluses, others spend a few seasons playing the rake, though in truth they are far less heedless. They misbehave simply in order to forget.

Finally, we have their fellow officer, the man who returns to an inheritance he doesn’t want, a mountain of debts, an estate he can’t sell to clear those debts because it is entailed, a decaying mansion, and tenants living in squalor. He may, perhaps, have a dependent family as well: a mother or stepmother, a younger brother with expensive habits, and a host of much younger siblings or half-siblings. His dilemma is whether to contract a betrothal to an heiress he scarcely knows, in order to save them all from ruinous poverty, or to marry the dowerless girl he loves.

Which of these are your favorites? Have I left anyone out?


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THE CLASSIC ROMANTIC HERO: COULD YOU REALLY LIVE WITH HIM?

Post by Teresa Edgerton » Mon Dec 19, 2016 12:10 pm

At one point or another, I believe I have been in love (purely in the literary sense of course) with characters who more or less fit each of the types in the post before this one. (Well, excepting Heathcliff. He’s just too cruel for my taste. And though he is one of the great classic doomed lovers, he plays better on the screen than he does on the page. No one seems to be writing variations on his love affair. For me, he is a too realistic in the worst sort of way. I can imagine him as the guy who walks into the office where his ex-wife or ex-girlfriend works, takes out a gun, and kills her and five or six co-worker.)

At Venus Ascending we are looking for heroes — and anti-heroes — who don’t fit any of the above descriptions.

For instance, there is Nicholas, in Suzanne Jackson’s The Beguiler.

Nicholas is neither a rake nor a rogue, but something far darker. Though not a good man, he convinces himself that he's as good as circumstances allow. (But with this, the witches he buys and then sells on, by way of an illegal trade, may beg to differ.) He has a disarmingly attractive sense of humor — but never trust him.


 
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THE CLASSIC ROMANTIC HERO: COULD YOU REALLY LIVE WITH HIM

Post by Suzanne Jackson » Wed Dec 21, 2016 12:40 pm

A very interesting post, Teresa.

Yes, Nicholas is quite a dark character. But from the amount of Romance books written about Rakes and Rogues, we are often fascinated, and yes fall in love with men who are a little bit dangerous or challenging. Nicholas is certainly challenging, and more than a little bit dangerous.

Fantasy and Science fiction novels are full of dark characters, but bringing such a character into a Romance is a bit of a balancing act. Make him too dark and readers may dislike him, not something you want for your romance hero. Make him too easy going and the challenge has gone. I’m sure a lot of the attraction with Romance books is the fact as a reader we are safe. We don’t have to live with this man, but can be seduced from a distance – beyond the page. The plot can be dark, very dark even, but the reader can leave that character behind and move back into the real world.

A Romance book can be so safe that it’s very predictable. At least the end can be predictable. The genre is traditionally a Happy Ever After ending, but a Happy For Now is becoming quite common. I enjoy both. When does a Romance step into being a Love Story, but maybe that’s a question for another time?


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THE CLASSIC ROMANTIC HERO: COULD YOU REALLY LIVE WITH HIM

Post by Teresa Edgerton » Wed Dec 21, 2016 9:07 pm

What you say about being seduced from a (safe) distance is a very good point.

There are a lot of things that happen in books -- especially in fantasy and science fiction, and adventure fiction of any sort -- where a reader's first reaction might be "Wow. That would be so cool!" but if they really thought about it they'd realize that it's not something they would want to do at all. If they were that adventurous, they'd be out having adventures, because those are still to be had in the world. But who really wants to fight an army of Orcs, or be admitted into a guild of assassins?

And it's the same with falling in love with certain kinds of dark, dark hero. Take the vampire for instance. Who wants a serial murderer for a lover, someone whose best quality is that he hasn't yet murdered you? A real-life relationship that keeps us in fear for our lives is draining, it beats you down, but that vicarious sense of danger we find in a book can be quite thrilling.

However, I do think that we are more aware of certain things as readers than we used to be twenty or thirty years ago. For instance, the hero who falls instantly, madly, in love with the heroine, proposes to her, is turned down, continues to pursue in spite of all attempts to discourage him. I remember reading such books when I was younger and thinking, "How romantic. I wish someone loved me that much." Now my reaction would more likely be that the guy was a stalker and there was nothing romantic about it.

I think all romance novels are love stories, or aim to be, but because so many romance novels conform so closely to genre expectations and conventions, because certain plots are continuously recycled, the term romance is more loaded and makes many readers shy away. Of course you can find love stories that are mawkish and manipulative outside the genre, especially in mainstream fiction. But almost everyone falls deeply in love at some point in their life -- or would like to -- it's a nearly universal human experience, one that most people can relate to if done well. There is no reason why it can't be done well in the pages of a romance novel, and it often is.


 
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Re: THE CLASSIC ROMANTIC HERO: COULD YOU REALLY LIVE WITH H

Post by origamiwolf » Thu Dec 29, 2016 5:52 pm

I love the damaged type (in fiction!) -- the hero back from war who finds he can't recover from his memories. I really enjoyed The Captive by Grace Burrowes for that kind of hero (all three of them in the trilogy, even though one was set in Scotland, which I tend to find difficult), and one thing I love about Tarndel is that he's not in the best situation himself. He's a bit damaged and a bit broken.

It does worry me, sometimes, that I find that type so very alluring. And I very much wouldn't like to live with that kind of man in real life (I gave it a shot when I was young and romantic -- it was ghastly).

My favourite ever romantic hero (possibly with the exception of Wentworth, and maybe Mr Rochester, and possibly Mr Darcy, and, well, I have a bit of a thing for Tarndel) is Alan Ryves from Sarah Rees Brennan's DEMON'S LEXICON trilogy. He's all messed up and broken but he's so gentle and strong as well. He's in disguise as the harmless-brother/reliable-friend for the first two books (and he's funny too) -- he's just a wonderful, wonderful hero. I'd like to live with him.


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Re: THE CLASSIC ROMANTIC HERO: COULD YOU REALLY LIVE WITH H

Post by Teresa Edgerton » Thu Jan 05, 2017 3:56 am

Damaged is always fascinating, I think -- damaged so much that he teeters on the brink of being an anti-hero.

Love can be a catalyst for change (and really, why have it there if it isn't?) but ultimately it should transform the character for the better, not for the worse. The hero who becomes a real bastard, just because he is in love, is one I don't like to live with even vicariously for the time it takes to finish the book. But as mentioned in the thread "What Puts You off," I hate hit equally if the heroine starts acting that way, too. Or worst of all if both of them spend the whole book trying to hurt each other up until almost the very (usually improbable) end.

I do love a good revenge plot, but not when people who are supposedly in love are the ones trying to avenge their hurts on each other. Once love enters, I think the desire to make the other unhappy should stop. Or where is the romance?

Maybe it's because I believe that love can be transformative but only if the person wants to change, if the desire to do so is already there. Someone who wanted to become a horrible person ... why would anyone want to live with him?

Kindness on the other hand can be very appealing. One of my favorite YA series is Sherwood Smith's Crown Duel/Court Duel. The hero is extremely dashing in an old-fashioned adventure type way -- which may be my favorite kind of hero of all -- but strangely he always seems to be trying to feed the heroine or pour her a cup of tea, even when they are bitterly opposed. He's the one in control of events at each of those times, so it's one way the author reveals his nature as chivalrous and honorable while avoiding the more obvious chivalrous clichés.

It's odd that I left off the old-fashioned adventure type hero from my list. Maybe because he's more common in books that are not romance novels, but are romantic? Or maybe because in my mind the questions "Could you live with him?" and "Would you really want to" didn't even occur to me in regard to him because my answer would be an unequivocal "yes." (Such heroes sometimes are damaged, which keeps any virtues they might have from becoming boring.)


 
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Re: THE CLASSIC ROMANTIC HERO: COULD YOU REALLY LIVE WITH H

Post by origamiwolf » Sat Jan 07, 2017 8:19 pm

Ah yes. I love (LOVE) those Sherwood Smith books. Actually, now you mention it, I should go and read them again.

I think romances where the protagonists do fall in love, and certainly in like, but have good reason to suspect that the other is not on their side -- or is lying to them -- so even if they desperately want to believe that he/ she is everything he/ she appears to be, they can't really trust their instincts. In that environment I find it easier to believe that they'd lash out at the person they love because they think it's all false.


 
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Re: THE CLASSIC ROMANTIC HERO: COULD YOU REALLY LIVE WITH H

Post by Carolyn Hill » Thu Apr 06, 2017 4:07 am

I, too, enjoy Sherwood Smith!

And I also have a weak spot for damaged heroes. Laura Kinsale excels at writing these sort; her heroes are strong in many ways but hide a secret physical or psychological malady. As to whether I want to live in reality with someone with a secret or not-so-secret malady ... that depends on the person's other qualities. Kinsale's hero's strengths outweigh the perceived or actual weakness: he and the heroine balance one another, become a unit; he allows the heroine in on the secret, accepts her help if needed, and copes with the malady. She gets to be a wife, a partner, not a Sad Sacrifice or perpetual caretaker.



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